Mellow and satisfying with subtle flavors, it also holds its own with bigger, more distinct flavors. So when I came across this saffron cauliflower recipe while leafing through my copy of the Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook Plenty, I really wanted to try it. British cook Ottolenghi brings Mediterranean-Middle Eastern inspiration to the entries in this all-vegetables cookbook, that is rich in colors, ingredients, and textures.
In this recipe, which I adapted a little to accommodate ingredients I already had, the exotic aroma of saffron, the sweetness from raisins and long-cooked onions, and the slight saltiness of green olives work beautifully with cauliflower, which remains central even as it plays well with the others.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons saffron
- 1/3 cup boiling water
- 2 12-ounce packages cauliflower florets (or 1 medium cauliflower, divided into medium florets)
- 1 large red onion
- 2/3 cup Thompson raisins (if you use raisins that are very dry, soak them in water for a few minutes, then drain)
- 1/2 cup Luques green olives (or other nice-quality green olive)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- salt and black pepper
- 4 tablespoons cilantro
I preheated the oven to 400°F, then put the saffron strands in a small bowl, over which I poured the boiling water. While that infused, I sliced the onions and pitted and halved the olives.
Then I put everything, except for the cilantro, into a larger bowl, mixing it all together with my hands, giving the white florets (as well as my hands!) a good stir in the yellow saffron-water infusion.
Transferred that to an ovenproof pan, which I covered with foil and placed in the oven to cook for 40 to 45 minutes. Until the cauliflower was tender but still a bit firm. About halfway through I pulled the pan out to give everything a stir, covered again and returned to the oven to finish cooking.
When it was done, I removed the foil and allowed it to cool down slightly, before stirring in the cilantro, and adjusting the seasoning.
I don’t know how to describe the flavor of saffron. It’s distinct. It’s more a permeating scent than a taste. As simple as this dish is, there’s a lushness to it because of that, and because of the mellowed olives, juicy raisins, the onions cooked to a drapey softness, citrusy cilantro.
All mingling with golden-hued cauliflower…showing off its glamour side.